How to Deal with Running Bad

One of the most difficult things I’ve had to deal with as a poker player is running bad. I’m sure I’m not alone. Frequently being out flopped or sucked out on by runner-runner draws, while not sucking out yourself, is frustrating for anyone. Especially when it last longer than a session or two — like days, weeks or even months. It’s like dealing with bad beats on steroids.

Unfortunately, no one is immune to running bad. It doesn’t matter what stakes you play, how good you are or how often you play, at some point you’re bound to be backhanded by the deck. So the real question here is how are you going to handle running bad when it happens to you?

A Few Tips for Dealing with a Case of Run Bad

“Case of the run bad” makes it sound like it’s a sickness, huh? Believe it or not, it can end up that way. When I faced my first true downswing, I immediately started to second guess myself, try new strategies and wonder what I was doing wrong. Like I had a mental breakdown or something. It may not have been a true disease, but that sure didn’t stop me from getting sick to my stomach, one bad beat after another.

What really helped me get past all of this, and back on the road to success, was my coach at the time. He pointed out a few tips that I’d like to share with you now, that I think will truly help you deal with running bad in the future.

1. Learn about the long run and put your situation into perspective. In other words, learn more about the math behind poker and how it affects you. You should realize that AA vs. KK all in preflop is still bound to lose 20% of the time. It doesn’t have to happen in any specific order either. You might win 5 times in a row, only to lose the next 15. There is no order or logical reasoning, other than AA will win 80% of the time over the course of millions infinite hands played.

2. Look at other players’ graphs or stats. This tip was the most helpful for me. What you do is look up your friends, favorite players or top pros on Shark Scope or some other database, and just look at their graph. I challenge anyone to find a graph that doesn’t have some downswings in it. In fact, here is a graph of an old staking partner/coach of mine. These games were all played between 12/09 and 09/11:

How many downswings do you see? A lot, right? He’s been one of the top SNG players over the last couple of years, and he’s not immune to running bad. Check out one of his most recent bad runs where he lost close to $20k. That was over the course of a couple months too. If that doesn’t make some of you micro and mid stakes grinders feel better, there is something wrong with you.

3. Post hand histories. This is important. You want to post your hand histories to forums or send them to your buddies so that you can get a reality check. In other words, confirmation that your game is still solid and you’re not the one causing your downswing. Again, it won’t take care of the run bad, but at least you know you’re still playing winning poker. That’s all that should matter.

On the other hand, you might find out that your game is suffering because you’re not playing your best. This is actually good news. The problem isn’t variance, but something (you) that can be fixed quickly, as long as you put your head down and work at it.

Either way you win.

What You Shouldn’t Do When You’re Running Bad

Since I posted a few ideas for what you can do when you’re running bad, I thought I’d post a few things I recommend you don’t do when you’re running bad. In no particular order:

Don’t alter your strategy. At least don’t change up your strategy until you have a few peers review your hand histories. That way you don’t change your game for the worse.

Don’t increase the number of games you play. Many players will increase their volume thinking that they can rush through the variance faster. In theory this makes sense. The problem is that this assumes the player is playing optimally, which the majority of players who are running bad do not do.

Don’t continue playing if you’re upset or frustrated. This is an obvious and worn out piece of advice. But for good reason. You’re better off taking a break and calming down, then you are to continue playing (poorly). Your downswings will last longer, simply because you’re not only running bad, but playing bad too.

The best piece of advice that I can give anyone when they’re running bad is to stay patient and optimistic. Realize that there is light at the end of the tunnel. If you can focus on that and playing your best, instead of focusing on fixing the unbroken and your bad luck, you’ll find that the bad runs are over before you know it.